Thursday, January 23, 2014
Tips For Working And Living With Individuals On The Spectrum
1 . Approach students quietly from the side to avoid startling them. Their peripheral vision may be better and it gives them time to process information that tells them you are coming toward them. Once they are startled, it can be difficult for students to calm themselves.
2. Use non-verbal communication (e.g., gestures) when you can. For example, point to the location where you wish the child/individual to be, put your finger to your lips to remind him/her to stop talking, or give a thumbs up when s/he is doing well.
3. Use literal, succinct and direct instructions. “First, put your coat in the closet, and then come to class.” Avoid idiomatic phrases or sarcasm that the student may not understand.
4. Use a calm, even tone of voice. Excited adults yield excited students. Practice your poker face.
5. Visual supports are beneficial even after the individual no longer seems to “need” them. Do not discontinue their use without a case conference discussion. In times of stress, these visual supports may be a great support.
6. Remember not to take behaviors personally, even when the individual has a perfect knack for targeting your most vulnerable attribute.
7. Children/adults on the spectrum often have poor social skills. It is part of the diagnosis. Insert naturally occurring lessons into the day as they arise. For example, prior to the event, coach a child to say happy birthday to a peer, raise their hand to answer a question, cover their mouth when they sneeze, say no thank-you to non-preferred treats, etc.
8. Give the student ample time to respond BEFORE you repeat instructions.
9. Structure is your best friend. When there is downtime, help students develop a repertoire of things they can do. For example, in line they can recite a poem in their head, count, read a book, make a list, etc. If there are too many choices, narrow it to two or three and have the child/individual choose.
10. If there is a given schedule, follow it. Prepare for any upcoming variations. Prepare in a manner not to enhance anxiety in anticipation of the change.
11. Information processing and sensory issues are more difficult when the child is stressed. Make sure they have strategies to use when overwhelmed. Perhaps a trampoline, pillows, punching bag (some may differ), therapeutic swing (check with Medicaid, sometimes they will cover the cost of it), squishy balls, yoga balls for deep pressure, and simply enough just a quiet space with little lighting if any where he/she can just have no sensory input and unwind.
12. Know the signs of anxiety or stress for your students: pacing, hand-wringing, cussing, flushed face, laughing, etc. Know what causes anxiety or stress for each student. Adjust your language and demands when anxiety is heightened.Try not to hasten their responses to requests and oftentimes repeating oneself will trigger meltdowns; therefore attempt to be clear and concise with requests and questions on the first time. Oftentimes if the question or request needs to be repeated it is best to put it down on a piece of paper if the individual can read or to draw a picture creating a visual tool for him/her to understand the situation much easier.
13. Do your very best to be a good listener so that the child/individual does not have to repeat him/herself again leading to a great deal of frustration. Once frustrated in this manner, they often feel misunderstood and difficult to trust, that the other person is not interested in them or what they have to say. Leading to lowered self-esteem often causing them to become even more introverted and closed off from society. This is coming from someone who knows first hand. If people are not interested in me and what I have to say in addition....they do not return my phone calls nor ever give me a call instead of me always calling them....I tend to turn away from them because it hurts my feelings, This is why it is so difficult for someone on the spectrum to maintain relationships. We have difficulty understanding why it is necessary to be interested in someone else's business therefore we have a habit of perseverating (repeating an action or talking on and on about the same topic for an extended period of time to the point of exhaustion). Then the "friend or family member" loses interest in talking any longer and then the individual is confused as to why the conversation has ended. I have found myself in these scenarios many times and many of my "friends" have stopped communicating with me because of it.....I suppose, because they won't come straight out and say it. See, now I am perseverating going on and on about this topic because it is emotional to me. I am a good listener but my problem is that when I listen I don't respond to what they are saying so it doesn't sound as though I am listening.
14. Individuals, especially children are extra vulnerable....even more so than the average person because of how their nervous system is structured. It is seldom obvious, other than meltdowns/rage &; sometimes affection but the other range of emotions are difficult for someone on the spectrum to comprehend. Those on the spectrum feel love and so very easily get their feelings hurt but seldom does it show due to the communication issues and the lack of the understanding of how social skills work.Contrary to common belief, individuals on the spectrum do indeed feel empathy and sympathy in fact more so than the average person....their nervous system is super sensitive including the main hub for emotions: the brain!
15. Spend time with a student before making programming judgments. Listen to and observe the student with input from family members, teachers/therapists or other involved staff before commenting.
16. When trying to extinguish unacceptable behavior, always identify an alternative skill or replacement behavior. And when you are targeting a behavior, be sure to choose your battles carefully. Sometimes focusing too much attention on a behavior may actually intensify that behavior. Sometimes just ignoring Griffin's behavior, as long as he is not in danger, is the perfect remedy but I have learned the difference between when it is best and when I need to step in and help him calm down.
17. Forewarn a student when an activity is about to end, even if s/he is using a timer.
18. Educate students using their knowledge, interests and fixations. Build lessons around these special- interest topics so that others see them as experts in something. This will help build self-esteem.
19. Stay in close contact with family members and physicians about what is working and what is not, especially when students are on medications. Always remember that it is true that the professionals do often know what they are talking about BUT....you are the advocate for your child and only you know what is best for your child.
20. Build in many small breaks, even in secondary school, for relaxation. Identify a safe area or safe person for the student to access when they are stressed. Put in the IEP accommodations/modifications so that your child gets all that he/she needs in the classroom for his/her comfort in order to tolerate sensory issues they might have or academic accommodations they might need.
21. Help find a social group, a club or some sort of organization that can connect them to peer mentors that are positive. Look into your local Autism Society for possible respite or after school programs sometimes they even take adult individuals on the spectrum out into the community.
22. Pre-teach new concepts so students can re-hear them in the general education classroom. This allows them to contribute to the classroom discussion and promotes their success when topics have been rehearsed.
23. When you are feeling overwhelmed by a situation, surround yourself with a team of people with whom you can brainstorm. Using the resources and the wisdom of others helps us to be more creative and problem-solve more effectively. Do your research and find the best professionals in your area, whom you can afford of course, always see if you qualify for Medicaid or CAP services in your area. Turn to your local Autism Society and local support groups for support. There are great people on Facebook who have supported me through many rough times who also have autistic children. I have a page: Single Moms Raising Autistic Sons which is a great forum for women to meet and discuss the joy and challenges they face.
24. The ultimate goal for any student is to have a successful adult life. No matter what the age of the individual, teaching specific procedures and skills and then fading support is essential for this to happen. Never lose hope for your child. Even if he/she has to live in a group home for the rest of his/her life at least they will be with their peers and not alone, they will be supervised and cared for long after you are gone. If one looks into the future he can find a home that is suitable for his young adult where he thinks that it might be accommodating and compassionate but this might take some time. So I advise to not wait until the last minute because oftentimes there are long waiting lists too....especially for the really good ones. If your child ends up getting a job and living alone then that is true success and probably what you had dreamed of.....what every parent wishes for their child. But if not then don't beat yourself up...it's not your fault! Griffin's adaptive skills are so low that he will undoubtedly never get a job not unless he is working under very close supervision of someone in a very contained environment. I do have dreams for him....I wish that he would be able to work outside with birds, his favorite animal. Perseverating again!
25. And finally, enjoy working with these students. They have many gifts and talents. Building a strong and positive rapport may be your most effective tool. Praise the skills that the child has not their work alone simply because if they think that :"this" is okay like it is the way I did it now, then I don't have to do it better in the future. In other words....why improve on it if you praise it for how it is now?
Note from Lora: Expression and communication is the hardest thing for me and it has always been....even when I was head over heels in love with my Greek husband who ended up breaking my heart. I seldom laugh, cry, or even smile for that matter but that is what comes naturally to me. I feel happy with Griffin and I tell him, I show him every day but we still have communication difficulties and misunderstandings. So we spend a great deal of time in our own space because our sensory issues are such that if we were too close together it would be uncomfortable literally.....we would both have even more anxiety. When it is time to snuggle and be affectionate and talk at the end of the day we spend about an hour alone in the peace and quiet in the darkness void of any sensory input.....just the way I love it. In that darkness, I feel more bonded to anyone or anything that I have ever felt in my existence. I want so badly to protect him from all this pain that he is going through, all this trauma, I feel as though I am more than just his mom I am his best friend because we do everything together and it has always just been the two of us. We love each other unconditionally, he tells me once in awhile that I am a bad mom for not listening to him but I know not to take it personally because the next day.....I am the BEST MOM IN THE WHOLE WORLD!